CHARLOTTE — Rory McIlroy turned 24 on Saturday and received a number of nice gifts from friends and girlfriend Caroline Wozniaki.
His putter gave him next to nothing, however, in the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club.
McIlroy missed six of 11 putts between 3 and 8 feet on the course’s inconsistent greens, and also missed two more inside 3 feet in a round of 1-over 73 that has him tied for 10th and three strokes out of the lead at 5-under 211. If he holes all of his putts inside 5 feet he has the lead.
“I think from tee to green it was actually OK, but when I got on the greens it was a problem,” McIlroy said. “I just couldn’t hole anything today. I think when you miss a few putts on these greens you sort of lose confidence in your stroke and then it’s just sort of hard to commit fully to what you want to do.”
The stretch of holes 9-12 were particularly damaging. McIlroy was 1 under for the round and 8 under for the week after a 193-yard approach shot to 5 feet for eagle on the par-5 seventh.
But he double-bogeyed the ninth with a drive beyond the crowd and down a hill on the right, punch to 60 yards in the rough, chip to 19 feet and missed a 3-footer. He birdied the par-5 10th, but bogeyed the 11th and 12th holes with missed 5-foot putts before making par on the final six holes.
He is just three strokes back, though behind nine players, because co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Nick Watney dropped a combined five shots to par on the final four holes. And McIlroy did card a final-round 62 at Quail Hollow to win in 2010.
“I think they may have given me a little bit of a birthday present right there,” McIlroy said. “I’m only three back heading into tomorrow, and that’s as good as I could ask for.”
Taking a tumble
Scott Gardiner, the PGA Tour’s first Australian Aboriginal golfer, thought the adrenaline from playing in the final twosome Saturday with Phil Mickelson might work in his favor. It didn’t.
Gardiner showed obvious nerves and shot a 4-over 76 to tumble from a tie for second to a tie for 20th at 3-under 213.
He was hanging tough at 1 under for his round through seven holes but fell apart just before the turn.
He missed a 2-foot birdie putt on the par-5 seventh hole that could have pulled him within a shot of the lead, blew a 48-foot putt birdie putt on the eighth 11 feet past the hole and made bogey, and hit a spectator to the left of the ninth green with an approach from 218 yards in the fairway.
From there, he bladed a chip across the green, pitched inside 2 feet but missed the bogey putt while straddling Mickelson’s line before Mickelson attempted a short par putt. He bogeyed holes 13, 16 and 17 and birdied the par-5 15th to play the back nine 2 over.
Stockton to rescue
Gardiner called on the generosity of putting guru Dave Stockton Sr. early this week to improve his stroke, which had been a weakness in his game through eight consecutive missed cuts leading into the Wells Fargo Championship.
Gardiner said he briefly met Stockton at the Shell Houston Open in late March, and saw him in the Quail Hollow locker room Monday.
“He said, ‘How has your game been?’ And I said, ‘No good,’ ” Gardiner recalled. “He said, ‘We can have a look if you like.’ So he was nice enough to have a look at me on Monday for a little bit and then Tuesday. I think I called him Monday night and said, ‘Yeah, I need some more time,’ and it has turned out well so far. It’s given me some structure, which I didn’t have.
“When you’re lacking in confidence, structure is something that helps you, because you sort of think about the process as opposed to all the bad shots you’ve hit. I haven’t putted well or chipped well all year, and that was a big turnaround.”
Gardiner shot a bogey-free 67 in the second round but nerves appeared to get the best of his stroke Saturday.
Baby almost on board
Clemson alum and Greenville native Lucas Glover has great expectations for the final round, as he’s in a tie for 15th and within striking distance of the lead at 4-under 212. But he and his wife, Krista, are expecting even bigger things any day now.
Krista is nearing her due date for the couple’s first child, a girl, and Glover is prepared to walk off the course to join his wife at a moment’s notice. He leaves his phone in his locker while on the course, but his mother is following him around the course and has her phone.
The due date is about two weeks but Krista has shown signs of an early birth. “We’ll take that when it comes,” Glover said. “That’s a patience test. I’m not used to that, but it’s all things positive with that – just waiting.”
A Dyer disciple
Monday qualifier Nate Smith of Charleston – he of the golf bag featuring about 60 player signatures as part of a prank – has been unable to keep the momentum from a 63 in the qualifier and 67 in the opening round.
He has shot 74 and 77 in the last two rounds to fall into a tie for 59th at 2-over 218. Smith was 2 under in the third round through 11 holes but bogeyed each of the final seven holes to shoot a back-nine 43.
The 29-year-old northern California native who recently moved to Charleston is one of a trio of former Duke players with ties to Barefoot Resort instructor Alasdair Dyer.
He and recent PGA Tour winner Kevin Streelman were traveling together on the Grand Strand-based NGA Tour and were in staying at Barefoot for an event at River Hills Golf & Country Club in September 2007. Fellow Duke grad Paul Tucker’s wife, Kristina (Engstrom) Tucker, was getting lessons from Dyer and suggested the two players go see him.
They missed the cut and visited Dyer on the weekend, and both turned into his pupils. Dyer worked with Streelman for 3½ years through May 2011 and was Smith’s instructor when he won a 2010 Web.com Tour event en route to finishing in the top 25 on the money list to graduate to the PGA Tour for the 2011 season. Smith now works with Country Club of Charleston instructor Danny Stewart.
“I worked with [Dyer] for two years myself and kind of parted ways,” Smith said. “But he really helped me in my career and I know he helped Kevin as well.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.